Friday, January 27, 2017

2017 AUS OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Serena Williams (USA) [2] d. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO) 6-2 6-1. As expected, Serena was barely troubled by the power of her Croat opponent. Lucic-Baroni had been able to overpower the World #3 Agnieska Radwanska and out(b)last the World #5 Karolina Pliskova during her fairytale run to her second major semifinal and six-figure paycheck down in Melbourne. However, against Serena although she was able to blast 10 winners she also made 23 unforced errors. Basically, Lucic-Baroni was simply too erratic to be able to survive the encounter with someone who has as much power and defensive skills as Serena and the result of the match was never really in doubt.

 Venus Williams (USA) [13] d. Coco Vandeweghe (USA) 6-7(3) 6-2 6-3. The result of this match was very much in doubt for its entire duration. Vandeweghe began the match with a break but Venus was able to save three breakpoints before succumbing in that very first service game. This defense ended up characterizing her play for most of the match. Although, Coco was often successful in winning a particular point, Venus made it as difficult as possible, and when she had an opportunity she seized them. It wasn't until late in the third set that Venus failed to convert a breakpoint. The key point in the match was the first set tiebreaker which was won by CoCo when Venus made numerous unforced errors to allow the 25-year-old to win 4 points in a row. But it was Venus' reaction to the first set loss that was extraordinary. She had a look on her face that we had never seen before and suddenly her serve started clicking and her error count dramatically decreased. She raced out to a 5-1 lead in the second set and served it out with an ace to in 6-2. In the third set Venus saved the two break points she faced and she broke CoCo twice to win 6-3 and improbably reach her second Australian Open final fourteen years after her first one, as the oldest player in the 128-player draw.

Women's Final Preview: Who Will Win
Venus and Serena have played 27 times before and Serena leads 16-11 in their head-to-head. More importantly they have played each other 8 times in major finals and Serena leads there 6-2. Of course Serena has 23 major titles and Venus has "only" 7. 

Now, 36 and 35, respectively, Venus and Serena are playing in a major final 7 years after their last one, which was the 2009 Wimbledon won by Serena. Many people feel uncomfortable watching the two sisters play each other in major finals because many of us are fans of them both and we don't want either of them to lose. I am not one of those fans; I am happy when they play because I know that a Williams will be winning another major final.

That being said, this is a more important match for Serena than for Venus. If she wins, she reclaims the #1 ranking, will finally supersede Steffi Graf's total of 22 major titles and will be one away from getting to Margaret Court's 24 majors (but many of those were won in Australia before the Open era began). She will also have won 7 Australian Open titles, the most of any man or woman in the Open era (Court won 12.) There is no one who has beaten Serena more times and the two know each other's games intimately. That being said, their matches are very unpredictable, and usually not very high quality. Interestingly, most people point to their 2003 Australian Open (won 6-4 in the 3rd by Serena) as perhaps their highest quality match. It would be awesome if history repeats itself again.

MadProfessah's pick: Serena in 3 sets.

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